The Tomb of Ligeia

  • Roger Corman /
  • USA /
  • 1964 /
  • 81 mins

Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook, Derek Francis, Oliver Johnston, Richard Vernon / Fiction / English

The dead shall return. And she shall look magnificent.

Like his Bray-era contemporary Hammer, Corman’s final Poe adaptation saw him enhancing his cinematic milieu through filming on location – and in the UK, no less. Unlike previous films in the series, many of the scenes were shot outdoors instead of on sound stages. Filmed in part at Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk, and released by Anglo-Amalgamated (who funded Michael Powell's Peeping Tom) – Corman’s once-proposed The Tomb of the Cat film became one of the finest achievements of the ‘literary’ cinematic horror genre. Prior to her death, Ligeia Fell vows to return from the grave. Yet time passes, and her doctor husband Verden (a pallid Vincent Price) finds himself a new wife, Lady Rowena Trevanion (played by Elizabeth Shepherd). But Ligeia's will is stronger than time and mortality, and her reappearance is one of inevitability – and dire consequence. With lead actress Shepherd playing both Rowena Trevanio and the Barbara Steele-esque Lady Ligeia, the Gothic enormity of the script by Robert Towne (Chinatown, The Last Detail) still disturbs as it positively crawls to a sensuous, shocking end. Re-use of the now familiar stock fiery finale did not prevent genuine pyrotechnic drama during filming: according to Price, a cigarette discarded during the shoot ignited the liquid rubber with which the set had been sprayed. Perfectly capturing the necrophiliac drive as a moebius loop of ardour and repulsion, Corman once again reinvigorates a genre through his rare intelligence. Arthur Grant, regular director of photography for Hammer, handles the contrast between the bright English sunlight and the highlydetailed period sets with ease, giving the film a different tone and feel from its predecessors in the Poe cycle. A true Gothic triumph, The Tomb of Ligeia exists as the vital nexus between the mute horrors of Val Lewton and the cerebral, disturbing classics of 1970s horror cinema.

2009 Archive

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